The HyperTexts

The Best Rock Lyrics of All Time

Who wrote the most poetic rock songs of all time? Which modern songwriters were the best poets? I'm a poet and a "lyric man," so I thought I'd take a stab at possible answers ...

My personal top ten rock poets/songwriters/lyricists are Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, Carole King, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Cat Stevens.

High honorable mentions go to Adele, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Neil Diamond, Elvis Costello, Eminem, John Fogerty, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Buddy Holly, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Kris Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Laura Nyro, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Tom Petty, Prince, Otis Redding, Sade, Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone, Sting, James Taylor, Hank Williams, Brian Wilson and Stevie Wonder.

Great songwriting teams include Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees; John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison of the Beatles; Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones; Elton John and Bernie Taupin; Bono and The Edge of U2; Freddie Mercury and Brian May of Queen; Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd; Steve Perry, Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain of Journey; Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham of Led Zepplin; Anne and Nancy Wilson of Heart; Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac; and David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young.

My "dark horse" candidates and rising/trending songwriters include Joan Baez, Gary Barlow, Matraca Berg, Mariah Carey, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Dido, Lady Gaga, Vince Gill, Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Chrissie Hynde, Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Madonna, Bob Marley, John Cougar Mellencamp, Alanis Morissette, Van Morrison, Katy Perry, Pink, Lou Reed, Melanie Safka, Carly Simon, Taylor Swift, Pete Townshend, Tom Waits and Warren Zevon.

The so-called "British Invasion" that led to what we now call "rock 'n' roll" involves some interesting ironies. For instance, the "British Invasion" began with the Beatles performing in Hamburg, Germany. Furthermore, the first "hard rock" song was probably "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals. While the Animals were a British group, the song was a traditional American folk classic about a house of ill repute in New Orleans. Other harder-edged rock songs were influenced by American blues musicians and singers. So the "British Invasion" was probably more international than strictly British. If you're interested in the history of rock and its origins, I have included a Rock Timeline at the bottom of this page.

If you're on the younger side, the best rock songs you may have never heard could include "Until the Night" by Billy Joel, "Back for Good" by Gary Barlow and Take That, "Ghosts" and "The Reach" by Dan Fogelberg, "Blue Moon" and "Fever" by Elvis Presley, "All I Know" by Art Garfunkel, "Taxi" by Harry Chapin, "Good Morning Girl" by Steve Perry and Journey, "(When) You're Only Lonely" by J. D. Souther, "Without You" by Harry Nilsson, "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen, "Five O'Clock World" by the Vogues, "Time of the Season" and "She's Not There" by the Zombies, and "Pie Jesu" by Angelis. Okay, the last one isn't a rock song, but it is damn good!

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Please keep in mind that this page reflects one person's opinion, for whatever that's worth ...

Before I reveal my choice for the best rock poem of all time (the image below is a gargantuan clue), here are some of the greatest lines from rock and other popular songs:

Just stop your crying, it's a sign of the times.—Harry Styles
Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?—Bono of U2 "One"
Wild horses couldn't drag me away.—Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls ... and whispered in the sounds of silence.—Paul Simon, as covered magnificently by Distrubed
There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.—Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels 'cross the floor.—Procol Harum "Whiter Shade of Pale"
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, 'cause I built my life around you.—Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac
Ah, look at all the lonely people!—John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby"
There must be some way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief.—Bob Dylan "All Along the Watchtower"
Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.—Bruce Springsteen
There is no pain, you are receding.—Roger Waters of Pink Floyd "Comfortably Numb"
R-E-S-P-E-C-T ... Find out what it means to me.—Otis Redding (but made famous by Aretha Franklin)
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah.—Leonard Cohen (made famous by Jeff Buckley among others)
Un-break my heart.—Toni Braxton
Only the good die young.—Billy Joel
I'm a bad boy for breakin' her heart.—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers "Free Fallin'"
"I am," I said to no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.—Neil Diamond
I walk the line.—Johnny Cash (but he later fell into a "burning ring of fire" and cheated!)
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog.—made famous by Elvis Presley
Who wants to live forever?—Freddie Mercury of Queen
How I wish, how I wish you were here. We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.—Roger Waters of Pink Floyd
It's better to burn out than fade away.—Neil Young (used by Kurt Cobain to say farewell to earth-life)
The times they are a-changin'.—Bob Dylan
We shall overcome.—Charles Albert Tindley, as performed by Pete Seeger and many other artists and civil rights activists
A change is gonna come.—Sam Cooke (perhaps the ultimate musical call for racial equality and justice)
The answer is blowin' in the wind.—Bob Dylan (this song inspired Cooke's song above)
Emancipate yourselves.—Bob Marley
Let it be.—Paul McCartney
Imagine all the people living life in peace.—John Lennon




Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night"

Don McLean's "Vincent" gets my vote as the best rock poem of all time because it tells a haunting story and also carries us somewhere "beyond" by making us feel a strong kinship with the troubled Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The best poems and songs create a sort of spiritual "communion" between writer, subject and audience ...

Vincent

by Don McLean

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue
Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left inside
On that starry, starry night
You took your life as lovers often do
But I could've told you, Vincent
This world was never meant
For one as beautiful as you

Starry, Starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget
Like the strangers that you've met
The ragged men in ragged clothes
The silver thorn, the bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen
They're not listening still
Perhaps they never will . . .

Don McLean is most famous today for his enigmatic/esoteric song "American Pie" (a number one hit in 1971-1972) and perhaps for his lilting cover of Roy Orbison's lovely love song "Crying." (Orbison called it the best cover of any of his songs by another artist.) McLean also had a hit with "Castles in the Air." His song "And I Love You So" was recorded by artists who include Elvis Presley, Shirley Bassey, Johnny Mathis, Olivia Newton-John, Bobby Vinton and Perry Como. Lori Lieberman wrote the song "Killing Me Softly (with His Song)" after a Don McLean concert where she heard him sing "Empty Chairs." He also had success with his cover of the 1958 classic "Since I Don't Have You" that featured his pure high tenor and atmospheric falsetto. But I think "Vincent" is the best and most poetic song that McLean wrote and performed himself.

Bernie Taupin's evocative lyrics to "Candle in the Wind" tell another haunting story about another enchanting artist: Marilyn Monroe (the former Norma Jean Baker). The music was written and the song was originally performed by Elton John. The original song not only causes us to empathize with Marilyn Monroe, but also with the young boy who felt such empathy for her. Bernie Taupin later wrote new lyrics for the song, honoring England's Rose, Princess Diana, after her death. That version, called "Goodbye England's Rose" and released as "Candle in the Wind 1977" became the best-selling rock single of all time!

Collage: Diana (head and shoulders) in front of temple

Candle in the Wind

music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin; performed by Elton John

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

Loneliness was tough
The toughest role you ever played
Hollywood created a superstar
And pain was the price you paid
Even when you died
Oh the press still hounded you
All the papers had to say
Was that Marilyn was found in the nude

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
Goodbye Norma Jean
From the young man in the 22nd row
Who sees you as something more than sexual
More than just our Marilyn Monroe

Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to a number of other hits, including "Bennie and the Jets," "Border Song," "Crocodile Rock," "Daniel," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Island Girl," "Rocket Man," "Sacrifice," "Tiny Dancer" and "Your Song." But "Candle in the Wind" is probably his best-known song, and it just may be the best-known rock song of all time. And deservedly so.

Songwriting Trivia: Joni Mitchell, who famously wrote "Woodstock," infamously did not bother to attend, opting instead to appear on The Dick Cavett Show!

Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is an unusual song, to say the least. It was originally written as an acoustic folk song, but soon became one of the best-known hard rock songs of all time. It was an eight-minute-long album track that was never released as a single, and yet it became one of the most-played songs on radio stations around the world, thanks in large part to listener requests. Comments by band members make it seem the lyrics were written rather mystically, apparently via some form of "automatic writing."



Stairway to Heaven

music by Jimmy Page; lyrics by Robert Plant; performed by Led Zeppelin

There's a lady who's sure
All that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
And she's buying a stairway to heaven

There's a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings

In a tree by the brook
There's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

There's a feeling I get
When I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving

In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it really makes me wonder

And it's whispered that soon
If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason

And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter

Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, ooh, whoa, oh

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow
Don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean
For the May queen

Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There's still time to change
The road you're on

And it makes me wonder
Aw, uh, oh

Your head is humming and it won't go
In case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him

Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow?
And did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The truth will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll

And she's buying a stairway to heaven ...

"House of the Rising Sun" is an American folk ballad whose authorship remains unknown. The best-known version of the song was performed by a British "invasion" group, the Animals. (Hey, what were they doing, stealing our best folk songs?) Like many other songs on this page, it tells a haunting, compelling story.



House of the Rising Sun

author unknown

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
My father was a gamblin' man
Down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and trunk
And the only time he's satisfied
Is when he's on a drunk

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done:
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun

Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I'm goin' back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" has been the most-played song at venues in the United Kingdom over the last 75 years, and justly so. It's yet another song that tells a haunting tale, if a somewhat surrealistic one that's hard to completely unravel. The song is based on a party at which Keith Reid heard the phrase "a whiter shade of pale" ... the rest, as they say, is history. The phrase "as the miller told his tale" probably refers to the Miller's Tale of the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." The Miller's Tale was about a man's attempt to seduce a young woman, so we may perhaps deduce that the young woman at the party turned "a whiter shade of pale" because she was being propositioned.

A Whiter Shade of Pale

by Matthew Fisher, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid; performed by Procol Harum

We skipped a light fandango,
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor.
I was feeling kind of seasick,
But the crowd called out for more.
The room was humming harder,
As the ceiling flew away.
When we called out for another drink,
The waiter brought a tray.

And so it was that later,
As the miller told his tale,
That her face at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale.

She said there is no reason,
And the truth is plain to see
That I wandered through my playing cards,
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast.
And although my eyes were open,
They might just as well have been closed.

And so it was later,
As the miller told his tale,
That her face at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale.

"Sympathy for the Devil," according to Mick Jagger, was inspired by the work of the French poet, Charles Baudelaire. It was written in the first person, from the perspective of Lucifer. The image below is by William Blake ...



Sympathy for the Devil

by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; performed by the Rolling Stones

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith

And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the Blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

I shouted out,
"Who killed the Kennedys?"
When after all
It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's confusing you
Is just the nature of my game

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
'Cause I'm in need of some restraint

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, have some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste, mmm yeah

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, mmm yeah
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, mmm mean it, get down

Tell me baby, what's my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what's my name
I tell you one time, you're to blame

What's my name
Tell me, baby, what's my name
Tell me, sweetie, what's my name

"Morning Has Broken" has a most interesting genesis. It was originally a Gaelic folk tune. The lyrics of a Christian children's hymn were penned for it in 1931, by Eleanor Farjeon. The Christian children's hymn later became a hit for Cat Stevens, America's most famous Muslim singer/songwriter! The song is its own ecumenical movement!

Morning Has Broken

lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon; performed by Cat Stevens

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day

"I Am a Rock" seems to be the refutation of a sermon preached by John Donne, who happened to be one of England's greatest poets. In his famous sermon Donne proclaimed that "no man is an island." But the young, introspective singer/songwriter Paul Simon begged to differ. The image below is of the world's most famous rock island, Gibraltar, at night ...



I Am a Rock

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love;
I've heard the word before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

"(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" was recorded by Otis Redding on December 7, 1967, just three days before he died in a plane crash outside Madison, Wisconsin.



(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay

by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper; performed by Otis Redding

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooh, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the 'Frisco bay
'Cause I've had nothing to live for
And look like nothin's gonna come my way

So I'm just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

Look like nothing's gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same, yes

Sittin' here resting my bones
And this loneliness won't leave me alone
It's two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home

Now, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Oooo-wee, sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

(whistle)

Johnny Cash wrote "I Walk the Line" in 1956, when he was newly married, and vowing to always be faithful to his wife. Years later he recorded "Ring of Fire," a song about the torrid love affair that caused him to leave his first wife for June Carter Cash, his mistress and second wife. June Carter wrote "Ring of Fire" with Merle Kilgore. Johnny Cash had a dream in which he was singing the song with mariachi horns in the background, which was how it was recorded. 



I Walk the Line

by Johnny Cash

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line

"Riders on the Storm" is one of the creepiest songs of all time. It was the last song recorded by the Doors before Jim Morrison died. The band took its name from William Blake's "Doors of Perception" [the second image below]...



Riders on the Storm

by Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek; performed by the Doors

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone,
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah

Girl ya gotta love your man
Girl ya gotta love your man
Take him by the hand
Make him understand
The world on you depends
Our life will never end
Gotta love your man, yeah

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm

"Comfortably Numb" was it was the last song ever to be performed by Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason as the group Pink Floyd.

Comfortably Numb

lyrics by Roger Waters; music by David Gilmour and Roger Waters; performed by Pink Floyd

Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?

Come on, now,
I hear you're feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.

Relax.
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.

When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

I have become comfortably numb.

O.K.
Just a little pin prick.
There'll be no more aaaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little sick.

Can you stand up?
I do believe its working good.
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on it's time to go.

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

"For What It's Worth" is one of the best-known protest songs of all time. Ironically, it's not about war, but violence between club-goers and police on the Sunset Strip, where Stephen Stills used to perform.

For What It's Worth

by Stephen Stills; performed by Buffalo Springfield

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

"After the Gold Rush" seems to be a song based on a dream-vision. From what I understand, Neil Young claims not to understand the song himself, so I won't try to interpret it, other than to say I hope we don't have to depend on UFOs to rescue us from an ecological catastrophe or nuclear war!

After the Gold Rush

by Neil Young

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing
And drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.

There was a fanfare blowing to the sun
That was floating on the breeze.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.

I was lying in a burned-out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst through the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun.
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home.

"Unchained Melody" is one of the most popular songs of all time, having been recorded in hundreds of different languages. If you haven't heard the version recorded by the Righteous Brothers, please be sure to browse over to YouTube and check out Bobby Hatfield's stunning, soaring vocals.

Unchained Melody

music by Alex North; lyrics by Hy Zaret; performed by the Righteous Brothers (vocals by Bobby Hatfield)

Oh, my love
my darling
I've hungered for your touch
a long lonely time
and time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much
are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
Godspeed your love to me

Lonely rivers flow to the sea,
to the sea
to the open arms of the sea

Lonely rivers sigh, "Wait for me ... Wait for me ...
I'll be coming home, wait for me ..."

Oh, my love
my darling
I've hungered for your touch
a long lonely time
and time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much
are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
Godspeed your love to me

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" is an enduring classic. Paul Simon wrote the song specifically for Art Garfunkel, shortly before the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel. Garfunkel's vocals make the original recording one of the best of all time; the song has also been performed by many other singers, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Josh Groban and Charlotte Church.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel (vocals by Art Garfunkel)

When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

While I'm not a huge Beatles fan (preferring the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen and a number of other groups), I have always admired John Lennon's "Imagine" and its vision of a world where there is finally a true "brotherhood of man." His dreamy vision of a Utopian world has inspired the anti-war, pro-peace movement for decades and may be the most influential piece of anti-religion writing on record.

Imagine

by John Lennon

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today . . .

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace . . .

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world . . .

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Leonard Cohen may be the best poet among the more famous songwriters. "Hallelujah" weaves references to the Biblical stories of David/Bathsheba and Samson/Delilah into a modern love affair. According to the Bible, David played the harp, and he seems to have been faithful until he saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof while her husband Uriah was away at war. Delilah cut Samson's hair, robbing him of his power. Cohen's song illustrates how even the mightiest of men can be baffled and conquered by the fairer sex.

Hallelujah

by Leonard Cohen; performed by Cohen and a variety of other artists (my favorite performers of the song include Alexandra Burke, K. D. Lang and Jason Castro)

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?

It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift,
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya

She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Well, baby I've been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew ya

I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Our love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do ya?

And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to ya?

There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya

And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah 

"Kathy's Song" is a tender lament about love and loss. Paul Simon's songs tend to read well as poems because he wrote them as poems, then set them to music later.

Kathy's Song

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel


I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm, continuing,
Tapping on my roof and walls

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies

My mind's distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you're asleep
And kiss you when you start your day

And a song I was writing is left undone
I don't know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can't believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I.

Harry Chapin's "Taxi" tells yet another haunting story. This song is like a ghost story in which the ghosts are both still partially alive. I once saw Harry Chapin in concert, and he was a wonderful storyteller: both in his songs and in his interactions with his audience.

Taxi

by Harry Chapin


It was raining hard in 'Frisco
I needed one more fare to make my night
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down
She got in at the light

"Oh, where you going to, my lady blue?
It's a shame you ruined your gown in the rain."
She just looked out the window; she said
"Sixteen Parkside Lane."

Something about her was familiar
I could swear I'd seen her face before
But she said, "I'm sure you're mistaken."
And she didn't say anything more

It took a while, but she looked in the mirror
Then she glanced at the license for my name
A smile seemed to come to her slowly
It was a sad smile, just the same

And she said, "How are you Harry?"
I said, "How are you Sue?
Through the too many miles and the too little smiles
I still remember you."

It was somewhere in a fairy tale
I used to take her home in my car
We learned about love in the back of the Dodge
The lesson hadn't gone too far

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly
She took off to find the footlights
I took off to find the sky

Oh, I've got something inside me
To drive a princess blind
There's a wild-man wizard
He's hiding in me, illuminating my mind

Oh, I've got something inside me
Not what my life's about
'Cause I've been letting my outside tide me
Over 'til my time runs out . . .

. . . Baby's so high that she's skying
Yes she's flying, afraid to fall
I'll tell you why baby's crying
'Cause she's dying, aren't we all . . .

There was not much more for us to talk about
Whatever we had once was gone
So I turned my cab into the driveway
Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns

And she said, "We must get together."
But I knew it'd never be arranged
And she handed me twenty dollars for a two-fifty fare
She said, "Harry, keep the change."

Well another man might have been angry
And another man might have been hurt
But another man never would have let her go
I stashed the bill in my shirt

And she walked away in silence
It's strange, how you never know
But we'd both gotten what we'd asked for
Such a long, long time ago

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly
She took off to find the footlights
I took off for the sky

And here, she's acting happy
Inside her handsome home
And me, I'm flying in my taxi
Taking tips, and getting stoned

I go flying so high . . . when I'm stoned

U2's "One" has been one of my all-time favorite songs since the day I first heard it. The song is a marvel and it contains one of the most striking stanzas in the English language:  "Have you come here for forgiveness? / Have you come to raise the dead? / Have you come here to play Jesus / To the lepers in your head?"

One

by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.; performed by U2

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it any easier on you now
You got someone to blame?

You say...
One love
One life
When it's one need
In the night

One love...
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don't care for it

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

Well it's
Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light

We're one, but we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One...

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?

Did I ask too much
More than a lot?
You gave me nothing
Now it's all I got

We're one
But we're not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again

You say:
Love is a temple
Love, a higher law
Love is a temple
Love, the higher law

You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't keep holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should

One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers

One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One life

One . . .

"Tower of Song" is another tour-de-force performance by one of the world's premier songwriters, Leonard Cohen. It's interesting to see a Jewish Canadian poet paying homage to Hank Williams, a country songwriter. Music really has "gone global" and is perhaps leading the world in the direction of John Lennon's vision.

Tower of Song

by Leonard Cohen

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here
In the Tower of Song

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I'm very sorry, baby, doesn't look like me at all
I'm standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah they don't let a woman kill you
Not in the Tower of Song

Now you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the Tower of Song

I see you standing on the other side
I don't know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We'll never have to lose it again

Now I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back
There moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone
I'll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

"America" is a wonderful song about longing: the longing for love and the longing to discover oneself and one's place in the world. Paul Simon was born in the United States to Hungarian Jewish parents, but he has always struck me as being a somewhat monkish British troubadour.

America

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel


"Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag."
So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

"Kathy," I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitchhike from Saginaw.
I've come to look for America."

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.
I said, "Be careful,
His bow tie is really a camera."

"Toss me a cigarette,
I think there's one in my raincoat."
"We smoked the last one
An hour ago."
So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
"I'm empty and aching and
I don't know why."

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike.
They've all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America.
All come to look for America.

"Born to Run" is a rip-roaring anthem perhaps inspired to some degree by badass actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper. What happens when machismo-dripping young men straddle Harleys? A song like "Born to Run" seems almost inevitable. A fundamental line may be: "And the boys try to look so hard." There's quite a discrepancy between the lyrics of John Lennon and Paul Simon above, and those of "the Boss" below ...

Born to Run

by Bruce Springsteen; performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Every day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin' out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Wendy, let me in, I wanna be your friend
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims
And strap your hands across my engines
Together we could break this trap
We'll run till we drop, baby, we'll never go back
Will you walk with me out on the wire
`Cause baby I'm just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels
I want to know if love is wild
Girl, I want to know if love is real

Beyond the Palace hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard
The girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors
And the boys try to look so hard
The amusement park rises bold and stark
Kids are huddled on the beach in a mist
I wanna die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight
In an everlasting kiss

The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight, but there's no place left to hide
Together, Wendy, we'll live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
Someday, girl, I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go and we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us, baby we were born to run

"Eleanor Rigby" is yet another haunting ghost story. In this ghost story, the ghosts were both dead while they were still alive, then one of the ghosts (Father McKenzie) buried the other ghost (Eleanor Rigby). This song contains powerful, moving commentary in the inadequacy of love and religion to make some people happy: "Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. / Nobody came. / Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. / No one was saved."

Eleanor Rigby

by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; performed by the Beatles


Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby
Picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window
Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong

Father McKenzie
Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working
Darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby
Died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie
Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from
All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong

"Bookends" is one of the shortest songs on record, but still one of the best. "Bookends" may refer to the pictures we take of babies and of the elderly.

Bookends

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel

Time it was
And what a time it was.
It was . . .
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago, it must be.
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories,
They're all that's left of you

"Blowin' in the Wind," like John Lennon's "Imagine," is a highly influential song that may still be transforming the world we live in. How many other singers and songwriters have been influenced by these songs, and how many people have they influenced in turn?

Blowin' in the Wind

by Bob Dylan

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes 'n' how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

"Beds Are Burning" is a protest song of another sort: a rousing cry for the land stolen from Australian aborigines to be returned to its rightful owners.

Beds Are Burning

by Robert Hirst, Peter Garrett and James Moginie; performed by Midnight Oil

Out where the river broke
The blood wood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty-five degrees . . .

The time has come
To say fair's fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The time has come
A fact's a fact
It belongs to them
Let's give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?
How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

The time has come
To say fair's fair
To pay the rent, now
To pay our share

Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore East to Yuendemu
The western desert lives and breathes
In forty-five degrees

The time has come
To say fair's fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact's a fact
It belongs to them
Let's give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?
How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

The time has come
To say fair's fair
To pay the rent, now
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact's a fact
It belongs to them
We're gonna give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

It's interesting to see the degree of attention being paid to rock lyrics. When the Verve Pipe released "The Freshmen" there were debates on the Internet about just what is meant by lines like "stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice." While "stop a baby's breath" might refer to an abortion, "shoe full of rice" might refer to a wedding, in which case "baby's breath" might be a sprig of flowers. Song lyrics, like all forms of poetry, are open to interpretation. The more we explore, the more possibilities we find.

Photo Gallery

The Freshmen

by Brian Vander Ark; performed by The Verve Pipe

When I was young I knew everything
and she a punk who rarely ever took advice
now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice

I can't be held responsible
'cause she was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
she fell in love in the first place

For the life of me, I cannot remember
what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
for the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
we were merely freshmen

My best friend took a week's vacation to forget her
his girl took a week's worth of valium and slept
now he's guilt-stricken, sobbing with his head on the floor
thinks about her now and how he never really wept, he says

I can't be held responsible
'cause she was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
she fell in love in the first place

For the life of me, I cannot remember
what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
for the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
we were merely freshmen

We've tried to wash our hands of all of this
we never talk of our lacking relationships
and how we're guilt-stricken, sobbing with our heads on the floor
we fell through the ice when we tried not to slip, we'd say

I can't be held responsible
'cause she was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
she fell in love in the first place

For the life of me, I cannot remember
what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
for the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
we were merely freshmen

Other Notable and Great Rock Lyrics

"Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues
"Space Oddity" by David Bowie
"Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell; performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"Red Red Wine" by Neil Diamond
"Old Man" by Neil Young
"Diamonds and Rust" by Joan Baez
"Tiny Dancer" by Elton John
"Levon" by Elton John
"Private Dancer" by Tina Turner
"River Deep Mountain High" by Ike and Tina Turner
"Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks
"Like a Virgin" by Madonna
"I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton; performed by Whitney Houston
"Landslide" by Stevie Nicks; performed by Fleetwood Mac
"I Started a Joke" by the Bee Gees
"How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" by the Bee Gees
"California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas
"Dust in the Wind" by Kansas
"I'm a Believer" by Neil Diamond; performed by the Monkees
"I Am, I Said" by Neil Diamond
"Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes
"Faith" by George Michael
"No One" by Alicia Keys
"Fallin'" by Alicia Keys
"Lady Midnight" by Leonard Cohen
"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" by Bob Dylan
"Highway 61 Revisited" by Bob Dylan
"You're So Vain" by Carly Simon
"Homeward Bound" by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel
"Poker Face" by Lady Gaga
"Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler
"Royals" by Lorde
"Rolling in the Deep" by Adele
"Someone Like You" by Adele
"Hello" by Adele
"How Do I Live" by Leann Rimes
"Half Breed" by Cher
"Physical" by Olivia Newton-John

Rock Timeline/Chronology

1882 - "Wabash Cannonball" is the oldest song considered by the curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to have influenced rock music.
1928 - The lyrics to "Mack the Knife" are written by the German poet Bertolt Brecht for Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).
1929 - Charlie Patton, called the "Father of the Delta Blues," records for Paramount. Patton influenced Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf, among others.
1931 - The invention of the amplified electric guitar. Early proponents included Les Paul, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and T-Bone Walker.
1936 - Robert Johnson, so good he was accused of having made a "deal with the Devil," begins to record. He was the first superstar guitarist, the Clapton of his day.
1940 - Les Paul designs and builds a functional solid-body electric guitar. T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker create "electric blues" during the 1940s.
1946 - Arthur Crudup records "That's Alright," which will become a hit for Elvis Presley in 1954.
1947 - "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Roy Brown is a contender for the first rock song, depending on how one defines the term "rock music."
1948 - Columbia Records introduces the LP (long-playing) vinyl record. It becomes the industry standard for albums.
1949 - RCA introduces the 45 vinyl record. It becomes the industry standard for singles.
1949 - John Lee Hooker has a number one R&B hit with "Boogie Chillen," a forerunner of harder rock to come.
1950 - The first Fender Telecaster electric guitar.
1950 - Sam Phillips' Sun Records begins to record the electric blues of Howlin' Wolf, B. B. King, Ike Turner and Willie Nix.
1950 - Fats Domino has an R&B hit with "The Fat Man". With its "boogie woogie" piano and a back beat, this is one of many contenders for the first rock song.
1951 - The first jukebox to play 45's is released.
1951 - Radio disc jockey Alan Freed launches The Moondog Show and uses the term "rock and roll" to describe the show's music. 
1951 - Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm record "Rocket 88" for Sun Records. It has been offered by some as the first rock record.
1953 - Big Mama Thornton has a number one R&B hit with "Hound Dog." It would be an ever bigger hit for Elvis Presley in 1956.
1953 - "Crazy Man, Crazy" by Bill Haley and His Comets becomes the first rock 'n' roll song to make the pop charts, where it peaks at #12.
1953 - Clyde McPhatter, an ex-gospel singer and former member of the Dominoes, forms The Drifters and has a #1 R&B hit with "Money Honey."
1953 - The Orioles top the R&B charts with "Crying in the Chapel". The song then crosses over to the pop charts, where it reaches #11.
1954 - Big Joe Turner has a #1 R&B hit with "Shake, Rattle and Roll". Bill Haley and His Comets clean up the lyrics and have a bigger hit on the pop charts.
1954 - Elvis Presley is discovered by Sam Philips of Sun Records. Elvis is white, but sounds black, and rock 'n' roll has found its first King.
1954 - Elvis records his first single "That's Alright" at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The song is a regional hit in the mid-south.
1955 - Bill Haley and His Comets have a major hit with "Rock Around the Clock."
1955 - Little Richard has his first chart-breaker with "Tutti Frutti." The lyrics had to be toned down considerably.
1955 - Bo Diddley has a number one R&B hit with "Bo Diddley."
1955 - Chuck Berry writes "Johnny B. Goode" and has a number one R&B hit with "Maybellene."
1956 - Chuck Berry has another R&B hit with the prophetically titled "Roll Over Beethoven."
1956 - Elvis Presley has a hit with "Hound Dog."
1957 - Elvis the Pelvis has a hit, and perhaps the first major music video, with "Jailhouse Rock."
1957 - Jerry Lee Lewis raises the temperature with "Great Balls of Fire."
1957 - Buddy Holly and the Crickets have a number one hit with "That'll Be the Day."
1958 - Bobby Darin sees The Threepenny Opera in Greenwich Village and decides to cover "Mack the Knife" (see 1928).
1958 - "Rumble," an guitar instrumental by Link Wray, sounds a lot like modern rock. Muddy Waters visits England and "electrifies" musicians there.
1958 - Ray Charles improvises the original version of "What'd I Say." It would become a hit in 1959.
1960 - Chubby Checker has an early dance hit with "The Twist."
1961 - The Beatles release their first single, "My Bonnie (Lies Over The Ocean)" with a mixture of styles: classic, rock and perhaps hints of hillbilly and western swing.
1961 - Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies form Blues Incorporated, Britain's first amplified R&B band. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Charlie Watts would be members.
1962 - Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart and John Mayall, among others, sit in with Blues Incorporated.
1962 - The Rolling Stones form with singer Mick Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Brian Jones, bassist Dick Taylor, drummer Tony Chapman and pianist Ian Stewart.
1963 - The Beatles release "I Want to Hold Your Hand," a song written for the American market. Needless to say, it caught on, producing Beatlemania.
1963 - Tony Chapman leaves the Rolling Stones to form The Preachers with Peter Frampton. Charlie Watts joins the Stones as their new drummer.
1963 - The Rolling Stones have their first hit with a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On" and they open for Little Richard, Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers.
1963 - An early girl supergroup, the Ronettes, have a hit with "Be My Baby."
1964 - The Animals, fronted by Eric Burdon, have the first "folk rock" hit with "The House of the Rising Sun," one of the early masterworks of the harder British rock genre.
1964 - The Velvet Underground, fronted by Lou Reed, may have been the first "progressive" or "alternative" or "punk" rock band. Or perhaps all three.
1964 - Lynyrd Skynyrd is an early Southern rock band. They would have major hits with songs like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird."
1964 - The Who form with singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Peter Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon.
1964 - The Kinks, fronted by Ray Davies, have hits with "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night."
1965 - Bob Dylan releases "Like a Rolling Stone."
1965 - Paul McCartney composes "Yesterday" in a dream.
1965 - The Rolling Stones have a megahit with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Keith Richards heard the notes in a dream.
1965 - The Doors, fronted by Jim Morrison, form.
1965 - The Who have a hit full of teenage angst with "My Generation."
1966 - The Beach Boys have an early and influential psychedelic hit with "Good Vibrations."
1966 - Cream form with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. What we now call "Hard Rock" is slowly taking shape.
1966 - Jim Hendrix stays neck-and-neck with Clapton for electric guitar godhood by forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
1966 - The Troggs are one-hit wonders with "Wild Thing."
1966 - The Monkees, a TV creation known as the "Prefab Four," have number one hits with "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer."
1967 - Aretha Franklin covers "Respect," a song written by Otis Redding.
1967 - Creedence Clearwater Revival forms, fronted by John Fogerty.
1967 - The Kinks have another hit with "Waterloo Sunset."
1967 - The Doors have a hit with "Light My Fire."
1967 - Jimi Hendrix and the Experience have a psychedelic hit with "Purple Haze."
1967 - The Monkees have another number one hit with "Daydream Believer." Not bad for a made-for-TV group, but they had real musical chops.
1968 - The Beatles release "Hey Jude," a song Paul McCartney wrote to comfort Julian Lennon during his parents' divorce.
1968 - The Zombies have a hit with "Time of the Season."
1968 - Black Sabbath form, fronted by Ozzy Osbourne.
1968 - Led Zeppelin form with lead singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, drummer Jim Bonham and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones.
1970 - Eric Clapton writes "Layla" and records it with Derek and the Dominoes. Clapton wrote the song for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison.
1971 - John Lennon records his utopian anthem, "Imagine." His wife Yoko Ono helped with the content and lyrics, earning a co-writer credit.
1971 - Marvin Gaye has a hit with a song about police brutality, "What's Going On?"
1971 - "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin will become one of the most-played songs of all time.
1973 - "Candle in the Wind," with music by Elton John and lyrics by Bernie Taupin, is a touching tribute to Marilyn Monroe.
1973 - Dolly Parton writes and releases the original country version of "I Will Always Love You." Whitney Houston would cover it in 1992 for movie The Bodyguard
1974 - "Born to Run" becomes the first hit single for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
1975 - Freddie Mercury and Queen release their operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody."
1978 - The Grease soundtrack will sell 15 million units worldwide; it features songs by Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta, Frankie Valli and Sha-Na-Na.
1977 - Paul McCartney and Wings break out the bagpipes with "Mull of Kintyre."
1977 - The Eagles release "Hotel California."
1978 - The funk band Earth, Wind & Fire releases "September."
1978 - Boney M covers "By the Rivers of Babylon," a Rastafari song written by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians. 
1979 - The Clash, an early punk rock band, record "London Calling."
1980 - Pink Floyd has a hit with "Comfortably Numb," a song written by Roger Waters about a childhood fever, not drugs!
1981 - MTV debuts by airing "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles. The cable network reaches 2 million households by year end.
1982 - Survivor has a MTV hit with "Eye of the Tiger." It becomes the theme song for the movie Rocky III.
1983 - A stalker song, "Every Breath You Take," becomes the biggest hit for Sting and the Police. Ironically, people will get married to the song!
1983 - "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is banned by the BBC for suggestive lyrics.
1983 - Michael Jackson shows the MTV crowd how to moonwalk with his "Billie Jean" video.
1984 - Band Aid records "Do They Know It's Christmas."
1988 - Guns 'N' Roses have a hit with "Sweet Child O' Mine."
1988 - "One," an anti-war song by Metallica, is released.
1991 - "One" by U2 was written by lead singer Bono about the band members’ fractured relationships. Fortunately the band stayed together.
1991 - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a grunge hit for Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. 
1992 - Whitney Houston's cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" is recorded for the movie The Bodyguard and becomes her signature song.
1997 - Elton John releases a reworded version of "Candle in the Wind" as a memorial to Princess Diana.
1997 - Leann Rimes has a hit with "How Do I Live."
1999 - "Smooth" by Santana features Rob Thomas on lead vocals.
2013 - "Happy" by Pharrell Williams will sell 13.9 million units.
2014 - "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars is smash hit.

Related pages: The Best Singers of All Time, The Best Singer-Songwriters, The Best Female Singer/Songwriters, The Best Songs of All Time, The Best Sad Songs, The Best Protest Songs and Poems, The Best Love Songs, Rock Jukebox: the Poetry of Rock, The Best Vocal Performances of All Time, The Worst Song Lyrics Ever, The Most Overrated Songs of All Time, The Best Rock Lyrics, The Best Female Poets, The Best Sappho Translations, The Best Metaphors and Similes, The Best Lines from Songs and Poems, The Best Book Titles of All Time

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